Today we’re mixing up an Overall Julep to celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration from December 26 to January 1, so we figured mid-week was about right. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to pay honor to Tom Bullock, the first African American cocktail book author. The Overall Julep is one of Bullock’s original recipes and makes a good Kwanzaa cocktail.
Kwanzaa was created in the 1966 aftermath of the Watts riots by academic Maulana Karenga while he was doing his doctoral studies. Studying political science, he diverged from Malcolm X and others ideas on black nationalism and began promoting African culture.
Karenga created Kwanzaa with the goal to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” The name comes from the Swahili term matunda ya kwanza, which translates to “first fruit” festivals practiced in Southern Africa to celebrate the abundance of food in a harvest.
Before any of this, however, we have Tom Bullock. Records are sketchy, but it appears he was born in Louisville, Kentucky, sometime in 1873 as the son of a former slave and Union soldier. Louisville was a Union stronghold during the Civil War, but became a magnet for ex-Confederates after all the shooting stopped. It was a center for the only working railroad to the Deep South and became a major center for trade. And there were bars.
Tom Bullock the Bartender
Bullock started working as a bellboy at the elite Pendennis Club but eventually left for the rival Kenton Club. He eventually left Louisville to work in a railroad car bar and eventually landed in St. Louis around 1904. There he lived with his widowed mother and tended bar at the Exclusive St. Louis Country Club.
He soon gained quite a reputation for his skill. In 1913 former President Teddy Roosevelt sued for libel over being accused of being frequently drunk. He testified that one of the few drinks he had since leaving the White House was a Mint Julep at the St. Louis Country club. He further claimed to have taken only a sip or two. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial calling Roosevelt a liar, asking rhetorically “who was ever known to drink just a part of one of Tom’s juleps?”
Bullock published The Ideal Bartender, the first cocktail book published by an African American bartender, in 1917. He had earned tremendous respect among elite members of the community. The prominent banker George Herbert Walker, grandfather of George HW Bush, wrote the book’s forward. In it he said “I doubt he has erred in even one of his concoctions.” Sir Roderick Smith, the British Attorney General, toured America in 1918 and was introduced to Bullock. Smith’s hosts claimed Bullock was “the greatest artist in the United States in the manufacture of cocktails.”
Of course nothing good can last forever. The Ideal Bartender was one of the last cocktail books published before Prohibition was imposed. Once that happened Bullock was listed in the St. Louis City Directory as a laborer or butler, but most cocktail historians believe he continued as a bartender in hidden enclaves.
The Overall Julep
The Overall Julep is a far cry from the classic Mint Julep that Tom Bullock was famous for, and we reserve those for Kentucky Derby Day. It’s an original recipe using only ordinary household supplies. We briefly considered another recipe in his book, the Diarrhea Draught, but found the name disturbing and were uncertain as to whether it was to prevent, treat or incur said affliction.
- Mixing glass
- Collins or Highball Glass
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into ice filled Collins or Highball glass.
- Top with club soda to fill glass.